It started, Dan Wirtz said, one year when he found a Nativity scene and two candles to light up his small Twin Cities yard.
Today, the Writz household has a huge Nativity scene, and more than 150 other blow mold style decorations lighting up his Albertville home, making it a local favorite around the holidays.
"I think it's so cool," Dan said of the parade of cars passing the home the 5600 block of Large Avenue. "One day, we looked out and here was this huge bus. Everyone was looking. You could see little flash bulbs going off inside it. That's neat for me."
It's the payoff for hours of hard work and preparation. The blow molds (plastic molded into figures such as Santa Claus, toy soldiers or even Snoopy) hang by a hook in the rafters of his garage, and on stands near the back wall of his garage stalls.
"That's one of the more popular questions," Dan's wife, Patti, said. "Where do we keep it all? Well, we're going to need a shed. The garage is full."
Dan smiles at the thought. A shed means something else to decorate.
This year, Black Friday was D-Day for Dan, Patti and son Joshua, who is a middle-schooler at St. Michael-Albertville West.
They unpacked and staked down dozens of items. Beyond the blow molds, there are inflatable polar bears, a balloon with Santa inside, wire deer and, of course, the lights adorning the Wirtz home.
But the blow molds are what catches everyone's eye. There are traditional lights that look like they're stained glass (they're actually plastic) Dan found in the city of Hector, Minn. They used to stretch over Main Street of Olivia.
"I grew up in Elk River," Dan said. "And they remind me of what used to hang over Main Street there. So many of these that I have are kind of nostalgic. I love that old stuff."
The display has grown each years since the Wirtz moved in 12 years ago–ironically on Dec. 26.
"We hardly had furniture, but we decorated," Patti remembers.
There are more than two dozen blow mold Santas, no two alike. There are nearly 20 toy soldiers on the front walk alone, with several others scattered through the yard. There are signs for reindeer parking and wishing everyone "Merry Christmas." And, there's even a reindeer pulling Santa's sleight reminiscent of the display that feels Clark Griswold's wrath in the popular movie "A Christmas Vacation."
"Maybe it's gotten a little carried away," Dan jokes.
But, there's no signs of stopping. His sister, brother and niece all search garage sales for the blow molds, discovering holiday finds in June and July.
"There's a constant stream of them showing up in the summer," Patti said. "They're very good at finding them."
"We never buy new anymore," Dan chipped in.
Now, the display is part of a limousine tour of lights, and the Wirtz's have a note left with a complimentary mug of hot chocolate from one big fan in 2007.
The note reads: "Thank You! Our family has enjoyed your holiday lights the most!"
Dan has it framed, and hangs it outside. There are, of course, lights around it.
Josh said his friends get a kick out of it. As for his favorite.
"I'd have to go with Taz," he said.
See if you can spot him when you drive by.